John Brown Praying

Jacob Lawrence (American, 1917 – 2000)
Plate : 20 x 14 in. (50.8 x 35.56 cm)
Sheet : 25 7/8 x 20 in. (65.72 x 50.8 cm)
Mat : 30 x 24 in. (76.2 x 60.96 cm)
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Purchased with funds provided by Ronald '62 and Gerri Vander Molen
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In 1941, Jacob Lawrence created a series of 22 gouache paintings illustrating the exploits of abolitionist John Brown, who in 1859 tried unsuccessfully to start a war that he hoped would bring an end to the institution of slavery in the United States. Unfortunately, the paints Lawrence used for this series were highly unstable and the condition of the works quickly deteriorated. By 1977, the paintings were too fragile to be publicly displayed, so the Detroit Institute of Arts, which owns the paintings, commissioned Lawrence to recreate the images as silkscreen prints. This print is number 21 from the 1977 Legend of John Brown series. It depicts Brown sitting with his head hung down and holding a cross as he awaits execution for the crimes of treason and murder. Although we cannot see Brown’s face, the dynamic forms and bold colors convey his passionate character, while the image of the cross reminds us that Brown was a martyr whose commitment to racial justice was rooted in his strong Christian faith.   

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